Showing posts with label crime. Show all posts
Showing posts with label crime. Show all posts

Thursday, May 25, 2017


According to a book called "Murder Ink," England is a country steeped in its history of beheadings and quirky murders.

Something in the English character makes the people there fond of crime stories. 

This (above) is how the rest of the world views a typical English home. Is the picture accurate?  No, but like a lot of people I want to believe that even the Monty Python ladies live in a house with a trap door or a portrait with cut-out eyes (spy-style) over the mantle.

Here's (above) an English village, the site of at least half the murders in mystery novels. It has a cycling vicar, a tea shop, a post office where residents read each other's mail, and a pub.

The pub's name is probably derived from some gruesome historical event. There's (above) that headless thing again.

Haw! For some the idea of an honest lawyer will seem more bizarre than the severed head.

Here's (above) Black Shuck, a mysterious hound that believers say wanders around rural England in search of victims.

I don't want to exclude London, so here's (above) the stately Old Scotland Yard building situated near the Thames.

Not so photogenic was London's old Newgate Prison, described by prisoners as Hell on Earth.

Newgate is gone now but I think a fragment (above) still survives.

The prison was conveniently located near the courts at The Old Bailey.

Am I imagining it or does the this old courtroom look like something Maybeck or Frank Lloyd Wright would have done?

Here's (above) a holding cell where inmates waited for their hearings to begin. It doesn't look very comfortable.

I'm guessing that this drawing depicts the goings on in that cell, though it seems doubtful that the artist ever personally witnessed it.

Prisoners were expected to provide their own food. Relatives and friends would drop food into the cell through a hole in the ceiling.

Escapes from Newgate could be lavishly detailed in the press. Here (above) every obstacle the convict had to surmount was carefully documented.

Gee, thinking about all this makes me want to visit England.

Thursday, March 16, 2017


My name is Mildred and this is my autobiography.

I grew up on a farm where I had a certain reputation...deserved, I suppose.

But it was kinda boring there.

All the boys in my town just liked to drink and fight. I thought, geez, there has to more to life than I hitched a ride to the big city. 

Now THAT was a change!

Haw! I only succeeded in holding down one normal job.

After that I got "connected." I took some serious risks and made some serious money. 

You wouldn't believe the situations I got into.

I had a few laughs, took a few hard knocks.

Maybe some guys trusted me who shouldn't have.

That last caper put the fear into me. I almost got nabbed! One day I came across a "marriage wanted" ad in the paper and I went for it.  It was a chance to lay low for a while.

Okay, the guy wasn't the handsomest man in the world. 

Anyway, it didn't work out. I just didn't feel right around my husband's creepy friends.

And he experimented on me! Really! It was horrible!

One day I couldn't take it anymore and I pushed him into a vat of acid. As his smoldering skeleton slipped beneath the liquid he made one last grab and pulled me in.

As you can imagine I thought that was the end, but amazingly I found myself in the sky, winging my way Heavenward. 

I couldn't believe my eyes! I found myself in the afterlife, surrounded by all my old, if you can call them that.  Everybody I used to know! I didn't know they let people like us into classy places like this! Wow! What a kicker!

And there on a rock was a harp, just waiting for me to pick it up and play! It was all too good to be true! 

"Hmmm," I wondered out loud, "I wonder if Heaven has any pawn shops? That harp must be worth something."

HUSBAND (VO): "No Dear Wife, but you won't need the harp."

THE HUSBAND: "After my next experiment you won't have anything to play it with!"

Thursday, January 28, 2016


I'm still reading the book about Frances Glessner Lee's crime dioramas and I can tell you  that it's really creeping me out.  If you don't mind, I'll inflict some of my morbid thoughts about this on you, with the promise that this'll be my last post on the subject. 

The living room above caught my eye because it's so red. In nature red is always an accent. It never covers a whole field of view like it does here. When it does, in a man-made picture, it always conveys an idea or an emotion.  Here that idea seems to be evil and death. 

It's as if some supernatural force, not a person, has somehow become aware of the humans who live here, and is lying in wait for them. 

Something electric and malevolent is in the air. Even this picture of a stag seems to have bad intention. 

The model includes a view of the closet where the victim was killed while reaching for her coat, but I won't show it here.  There's more information in this one (above), in the sense that here, in this infernal red, the decision was made to kill another human being. The woman was a prostitute and the killer was a boyfriend or a client. They'd been drinking and arguing and I guess she decided to walk out on him.  Yikes!

Boy, this idea of evil rooms persuading people to murder is creepy in the extreme. That's what Stephen King's "The Shining" was all about. Even old ladies can fall prey to it.

Even kids!

I don't want to go out on a horrific note so I'll digress to talk some more about red for a moment.  Artists who use it frequently darken and dilute it with a bit of another color. That's odd when you think about it because once the red is muted and bludgeoned the next thing artists try to do is revive it again by running tendrils or dots of another color through it.

Interesting, eh?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


Here's my new hero, Frances Glessner Lee, a wealthy self-taught crime scene investigator, a sort of forensic Miss Marple.  In the 40s and 50s she built dozens of dollhouse crime scenes based on real cases in order to train detectives to assess visual evidence. The models are still in use today.  Lee founded the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard and was even made a captain in the New Hampshire police. 

Wow! She was good at this!  I wonder how many detectives picked up on the clues that are in this scene (above). A woman wearing only a bathrobe has died here. How? Murder? Suicide? An accident? 

There's no sign of violence, and the window is closed making it unlikely that someone entered that way.  The stool under the top light fixture could indicate electrocution, but the bulb is still screwed in. The window shade being up, exposing the interior to the neighborhood, might indicate the kind of disregard of convention that characterizes suicides.  Note also the the dry towel and the slippers facing the mirror. She may not have come here to take a bath. 

The woman's body is found collapsed near the door and the cord of her robe is tied in a knot around her neck. If she hung herself where would the cord have been tied? A possibility was that it was wedged into the top of the closed door causing the body to fall when the door was opened later on.  

Most of the dioramas aren't "whodunnits." The set-ups are crime scenes as they were when the police first arrived and all the relevant people in the case hadn't been interviewed yet. The viewer of the model knows only what what he can see and what the person who found the body had to say. That person may or may not have told the truth.

Sometimes first impressions are misleading. In this case (above) the inebriated victim appears to have accidentally fallen backward while sitting on the edge of a bathtub. A closer look reveals that the right leg is stiff at the knee, which should have been bent, indicating rigor mortis had already taken place before the fall. This woman died before she was placed in the tub.

As in real life, not every item seen is important. The presence of a magazine (above) might mean nothing at all.

There's a terrible poignancy to some of these models. Here's (above) a man's bedroom which is dominated by a green dresser. On the dresser we see artifacts of the dead man's life: a tie, a pocket watch, a whisk broom.

Writer Paul Auster comments: "There is nothing more terrible than having to face the objects of a dead man.  They have meaning only in function of the life that makes use of them. When that life ends...they are condemned to survive in a world they no longer belong to. What is one to think, for example, of a dozen empty tubes of hair coloring hidden away in a leather traveling case?

In themselves the things mean nothing, like the cooking utensils of some vanished civilization. And yet they say something to us, standing there not as objects but as remnants of thought, of consciousness, emblems of the solitude in which a man comes to make decisions about himself, like whether to color his hair, whether to live, whether to die. And the futility of it all once there is death."

Lee endowed The Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard. Every graduating class was treated to a dinner party at the most posh restaurant in Boston.  She arranged for dinner jackets for all but instructed the wine steward to deny wine to anyone who spoke too loud...just what Miss Marple might have done!

BTW: I found out about all this in a book called "The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death" by Corinne May Botz.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


The other day I was sitting in a restaurant, eavesdropping on the conversation of what I imagined were two criminals at the next table. They went in and out of some East European language, so I couldn't understand all of what they were saying, but it seemed like the young guy, who looked like a youthful Tony Soprano, was pleading with the old guy (probably not family), to give him a chance to prove himself. The older guy laughed it off and said there was no way he was going to trust somebody that young with that kind of responsibility. Responsibility? Responsibility for what, I wondered.

I had to leave before learning how this played out, but I got the feeling that the young guy was going to get what he wanted.  The old guy delighted in tormenting him with frequent cel phone calls, and you don't tease people that way unless you like them.

What struck me about this conversation was how oddly natural it seemed. A young criminal attempted to make himself useful to an older criminal who apparently liked and trusted him. They both came from similar backgrounds, both were street smart and ambitious,  both knew the value of loyalty.  Not only that but they needed each other. The old one needed the young one's energy and ability to take risks, the young one needed the older one to show him the ropes and open organizational doors. It was a comfortable fit.

How different than the way non-criminals climb the ladder! For them it's done through Human Relations departments, forms, background checks to college, and the like. Criminals, on the other hand,  don't care if you've gone to college, they just want to know if you can get the job done.

Maybe criminals know something we don't. Isn't getting the job done the most important thing? It seems to me that we waste the lives of millions of people who are potentially good and even great at what they do, but who are free spirits who find school and the practice of ticket-punching to be intolerable. They don't like following someone else's agenda. How much schooling did Carnegie, Ford and J.P. Morgan have? We seem to be telling people like them that we don't want them, that there's no place for them. 

I think there is such a thing as a criminal type. Sociopaths do exist, and I believe in coming down on them strong, but are all criminals sociopaths? Aren't at least some of them just part of an alternative economy? Why are we torturing these people? 

Forget drugs and all that, what I'm talking about is legalizing the black market. Nobody should need a permit to sell anything that's not stolen or dangerous, or carried out in a wholly inappropriate place. Starting a business should be as easy as renting a location and hanging out a sign. Health care, Social Security and all that are all good ideas but they shouldn't be the responsibility of the employer

College is so over-rated. When the government began guaranteeing school loans, and students were flush with borrowed dollars, zillions of new colleges sprang up all over the country to get the easy money. There was a race to the bottom as every new school dumbed down the curriculum even farther to please students and rake in the bucks.